Chapter 7: Dudley’s Discovery
The funeral for Martha Arthur was held about a week later with only Martha’s close family and Millicent Branch in attendance. A few days later, Denise Harris came to La Vida Aureo to deal with her Aunt’s possessions. Isabella Duncan and Matthew Dudley greeted Denise and expressed their deepest sympathy and said what a loss to the entire La Vida Aureo community Martha’s death was. Denise thanked them and indicated that she had been designated Executor of her Aunt’s will and would be available to deal with any paperwork associated with her Life Time contract. Denise stated that it was her Aunt’s wish that the possessions in her casita be donated to La Vida Aureo. Isabella said that Dudley would accompany Denise to the casita and assist her with anything she needed.
On the short walk to the casita, Denise apologized regarding her aunt’s funeral. “My aunt wanted her funeral to be a quiet affair with only family attending. I hope no one here is offended by that. Mrs. Branch came, of course, and said a few words about how Martha was loved by everyone here and how happy she was to be part of this family.”
“She was certainly a lovely person, said Dudley. I’m sure she will be missed. At least you were together as a family, including your cousin Barbara. Martha was so happy when she first heard from her after such a long time apart.”
“Our family hasn’t been close for a long time, replied Denise, particularly since our parents died. Barbara didn’t mention anything about making contact; perhaps it was just the emotions of the funeral. Charles’ presence makes it difficult for everyone. Anyway, she didn’t stay in town very long and took an early flight back to Boston this morning.”
That’s odd, thought Dudley. I was certain that Martha said that her niece Barbara had moved back to New Mexico and was staying with a friend in Belen. I must have misunderstood, or this might relate to that Facebok business.
Denise spent only a few minutes looking around the casita. She turned to Dudley and said, “There really isn’t anything here for me. I would appreciate it if you would make whatever arrangements are necessary to donate the contents to charity or give them to the next person who occupies this unit.”
“I will take care of everything”, replied Dudley.
As Denise was leaving, Millicent Branch walked up and spoke softly to Denise. “Your Aunt Martha was my dearest friend and I will miss her. Please take care of yourself, Denise, and know that I am always available should you need anything.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Branch. I appreciate your thoughts. As you know, my aunt provided very well for me and I’m sure I’ll be fine. I have my work and that keeps me pretty busy. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Dudley was sitting on the couch in the casita and Millicent came in and took the easy chair facing him. “Mrs. Branch, this is probably none of my business, but Denise said that her cousin Barbara was at the funeral. Did you have a chance to talk to her at all? I assume she’s the same niece that recently contacted Mrs. Arthur about moving back to New Mexico with her children.”
“No. I didn’t have a chance to talk to her. I felt like an odd duck anyway since I’d made such a fuss over that no-good nephew Charles when he was here. Mark my words, Mr. Dudley, he was involved in Martha’s death, heart attack or not. I just said my piece at the funeral and left before I said something very un-Christian.”
“OK. It was just something Denise said that confused me. She seems like a very responsible young woman who cared deeply for her aunt.”
“She did. I hope while she was here she took all that fancy jewelry Martha had; I know Martha had always intended for her to have it. Martha showed everything to me once a few years ago. It was pretty gaudy stuff, if you ask me. I understood that some King or Sheik gave it to her trying to get that thingamabob her Henry had invented. But, Martha suspected that they would sell it to the Russians or Chinese and convinced Henry to turn it over the U.S. military. I doubt that it would have been Denise’s style, but it was worth a lot and she could have sold it for a bundle. I was just glad that that bum Charles never got his hands on any of it.”
“Denise didn’t stay very long and really didn’t look around. Are you sure she knew about this jewelry?”
“I always assumed Martha had mentioned it to her, but maybe she wasn’t very clear about her intentions. She was sort of scatter-brained about some things. I tried to get her to put those valuables and all the cash she kept here in a bank, but I doubt that she ever did. Why don’t you and I look around? I can always call Denise and give her what we find.”
“Where would Mrs. Arthur have kept such things? You say she also kept a lot of cash here?”
“I don’t know why she didn’t trust banks, but she didn’t. Knowing Martha, the first place I would look is in the dresser and in the drawer where she kept her unmentionables.”
“Why don’t you look there and I’ll look in the bedroom closet?”
Dudley was still rummaging through what looked like a large pile of dirty laundry in the back of the closet when Millicent came into the bedroom. “That’s really odd”, she said. “There is nothing in her dresser drawers. I mean nothing. No money, no jewelry, nothing. And, it looks like a tornado went through the whole dresser which doesn’t make sense. Martha was very neat, neat to a fault in my opinion. But, there is no sign of any of the things I’m certain were there.”
“I’ll keep looking through the entire casita. Maybe she decided on a different hiding place.”
“That is possible. After that incident with Charles, I urged her to take some actions to protect herself and maybe she got smart and did something. I assumed she would have mentioned it to me. Anyway, Mr. Dudley, I have some business of my own to tend to in town and I have to go. I’ll be back this afternoon and you be sure to let me know what you find.”
Mrs. Branch left and Dudley continued to dig into the pile of clothes and what he believed was dirty laundry. Near the bottom of the pile he found some bed sheets and a pillow case and noticed a small dark stain. When he held it up to the light, he realized that he was looking at a blood stain. He emptied the remaining contents of the closet and discovered a large pillow stuffed at the bottom of a hanging clothes bag, the type used to store large out-of-season items like overcoats. Dudley knew at once that he should not disturb the contents of the closet further. Instead, he immediately dialed Lt. Garcia’s number and asked the Lieutenant to come to La Vida Aureo as quickly as possible and to bring a forensic team with him. Dudley was convinced that he was in the middle of a crime scene.
While he was waiting for the police to arrive, Dudley went to Isabella’s office to notify her. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, he said, but I suspect Mrs. Arthur may have been the victim of foul play. There was that recent incident with her nephew that turned rather nasty, but I am not aware of anything that might have happened subsequently. Mrs. Arthur didn’t mention anything; I’m not sure she would have. Mrs. Branch, on the other hand, would certainly have made it known if something had happened. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the police and see what they have to say.”
“Let’s keep this under our hat for the time being, responded Isabella. No need causing a panic until we know more. I think it advisable, however, for you to secure the casita and keep any of our resident busybodies for interfering. Things will be difficult enough once we have police swarming all over the grounds.”
“I understand. I asked Lt Garcia to be mindful of the residents and not attract any more attention than necessary. He agreed and plans to show up with only one forensic technician at least until he determines that a larger effort is necessary.”
“Good. Please keep me informed. This is very unfortunate, but we must find out what happened. If indeed a crime has been committed, assure Lt. Garcia that he has our full cooperation.”
A few minutes later, Lt. Frank Garcia arrived with a young technician. They went directly to Mrs. Arthur’s casita where Matthew Dudley was waiting. He had placed a several orange traffic cones outside and a sign that read Caution: Closed for Repairs.
“Greetings, Doc. Show me and Tom here what you found.”
Dudley led the two men into the casita and into the bedroom. He had placed the suspect pillow and pillow case on the floor without touching them any more than was necessary. “This is all I found, Lieutenant. I found the pillow case stuffed in the back of this closet and the pillow in this large garment storage bag. When I found these, I stopped, and haven’t touched anything else. I thought I’d better call you instead.”
“As usual, Doc, you did the right thing. I presume this is the casita where the woman who recently died of a heart attack lived. Have you touched anything in any of the other rooms?”
“Yes. Her niece and I looked around earlier this morning and then Mrs. Branch and I took a more thorough look later.”
“And? Did you or your “resident Agatha Christie” discover any important clues?”
“C’mon Frank, Mrs. Branch has improved significantly in recent months. And, she was the one who told me that Mrs. Arthur kept a large amount of cash in here as well as some pretty valuable jewelry.”
Just then, Tom the forensic technician spoke up. “Lieutenant, these are both obviously blood stains. The one on the pillow case seems a bit fresher and really smeared. The one on the actual pillow is pretty concentrated in one spot. I went into the bathroom while you guys were talking and bagged several items so we can run a DNA comparison back at the lab.”
“Thanks, Tom. Good job. Any other observations?”
“There isn’t a lot of blood in either stain so it could be from something like a nosebleed; certainly not a major wound of any kind. From the looks of it, the pillow case might have been used to wipe up blood.”
Lt. Garcia turned back toward Dudley. “OK. So, Doc, maybe we’re looking at a robbery here as well as potential foul play. What do you think?”
“That would be very unfortunate. Mrs. Arthur’s family just buried her a few days ago. And I assume you’ll have to exhume her body if that’s what the evidence suggests to see what really happened.”
“I’m afraid so. Can you tell me anything about her family?”
“Her only family is a niece and nephew that live in Albuquerque. There’s another niece that came for the funeral, but I think she lives back East somewhere. I am not aware of any other family. Mrs. Arthur had a very positive relationship with her niece Denise, but a very stormy one with her nephew. In fact, there was an incident here a few weeks ago that got rather nasty. As I understand it, he showed up asking, no demanding, that she give him some money and he got physical with her. Fortunately, Mrs. Branch was here at the time and she pretty much chased him away. But we had to have the Resident Nurse check Mrs. Arthur out because she was pretty shaken by the incident.”
“That’s good information, Doc. Do you know this bozo nephew’s name or where he lives?”
“I believe his name is Charles Arthur and he lives near downtown some place. Sorry I don’t know any more.”
“I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that he’s in our database, probably for domestic violence or abuse or something similar that from your description. I’ll check him out while the lab boys are doing their thing.”
“Thanks for coming so quickly and so quietly, Lieutenant. Please keep me informed, particularly if you decide you have to exhume Mrs. Arthur’s body.”
As Lt. Garcia turned to leave, Dudley stopped him and said, “Oh, and Lieutenant, there’s one other thing I probably should mention.” Dudley proceeded to relate what he had learned about someone gaining access to Mrs. Arthur’s nieces’ Facebook accounts from a computer at The Neutron Bar & Grill.
Only a few days had passed when Lt. Garcia called Isabella to inform her about the results of the lab tests. Dudley was in Isabella’s office when the call came. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Isabella, but the DNA from the blood we found matches DNA samples from a hair brush we took from Mrs. Arthur’s casita. Again, I don’t want to draw any conclusions prematurely, but this is probably not good news. The presence of blood and Doc’s description of missing money and jewelry would lead me to think that some kind of robbery took place and Mrs. Arthur tried to prevent it.”
“Unfortunately, that makes sense, said Isabella. Doc and I were just talking about the situation and assume that this will become a full-scale criminal investigation. Is there anything else you can do so that we don’t have to exhume her body? I don’t think I’m prepared to deal with that.”
“I’ve checked into Mrs. Arthur’s nephew Charles and he was in the Bernalillo County database and, as I suspected, he’s been arrested numerous times, typically for abuse or fighting or just general stupid behavior. We’re on the way to pick him up right now and we’ll see what he has to say for himself. But, I suggest that you prepare yourself because it looks more and more like we will have to examine Mrs. Arthur’s body to determine whether a crime has been committed. If we’re lucky, maybe Charles will have a reasonable explanation about the blood stains and the missing property and we can avoid exhumation.”
It didn’t help Charles’ situation that he had been drinking when the police finally located him at The Neutron Bar & Grill. Sgt. Bernadette Armijo had little tolerance for guys like Charles and decided to charge him with Obstructing a Police Officer. Maybe if he spent a night or two in the Metropolitan Detention Center he’d be more cooperative when they questioned him.
Even sober, Charles was uncooperative and argumentative. “Look, the Old Bitch always gave me a hard time. She was loaded, but refused to help me out and lend me a bit of money.”
“I understand you got a bit rough with her the last time you visited her at the retirement place,” stated Lt. Garcia.
“Not really. That crazy friend of hers made such a big deal out things; she was screaming and yelling at me. What a Hag! The whole thing was no big deal.”
“Do you know the kind of things she kept in her room”, pressed Garcia?
“Yeah. I know she kept a bunch of cash and that’s what really pissed me off. She could have given me enough to get by, but she refused.”
“Look, Charles, we’ve studied your bank records and you made regular deposits of cash, typically a few thousand dollars at a time. Where did that money come from?”
“What gives you the right to look into my business anyhow? I got that money working, writing articles for the papers.”
“Charles, we’re just trying to understand what happened and you’re not being very helpful. It seems to me that it’s a lot of money for writing an article. Maybe a few more days and nights at MDC will make you more cooperative.”
“Whatever. I didn’t like the Old Bitch at all, but I didn’t do anything.”
Lt. Garcia felt that he really didn’t have many options at this point. Charles Arthur was certainly an unlikeable guy, but Garcia couldn’t prove anything. He didn’t know if there had been foul play or just an accident. Without further evidence, he couldn’t even prove that a robbery had occurred. Maybe Mrs. Arthur misplaced the money or had given it to Charles willingly. And, Mrs. Branch was the only one who claimed to have seen this supposed jewelry and Garcia certainly had his doubts about that. With great reluctance, he arranged to meet with Denise Harris to tell her what the police had discovered in her Aunt’s casita and get permission to exhume the body. He said that he hoped it would help explain the blood stains and if her aunt had been the victim of foul play.
Surprisingly, Denise was in favor of that difficult course of action. “I always knew Charles would do something really stupid regarding Aunt Martha. He always talked big and said that he could get as much money from her as he needed, regardless of what it took. Mrs. Branch told me about the incident when he shook her so hard that she fainted. My Aunt never mentioned it, but I assume there were other incidents. I’m afraid I can’t help you much about the jewelry. I vaguely remember a story about how some foreign person tried to bribe Uncle Henry, but I never put much credence in that particular memory of hers. I don’t want to be involved in this anymore, Lieutenant Garcia. You have my approval to exhume her body. You do whatever you have to do and I hope you can nail that Bastard for all the mean things he’s done.”
It took only a few hours with the body for Dr. George Hernandez, Bernalillo County’s Chief Medical Examiner to call Lt. Garcia with some results. “You know, Lieutenant, I understand that dealing with the death of a loved one can be very difficult for some people. They are often too anxious to get the funeral over as quickly as possible so that they can get the event behind them. For someone like your Mrs. Arthur, who had a history of heart trouble, it was just too convenient to list the probable cause of death as a heart attack and no one would have questioned it. But, in this particular case, a bit more patience and a closer examination would have revealed that Mrs. Arthur had a broken nose and that there was still blood residue in her nasal cavities. Tom showed me the pillow you recovered from her apartment and I think you are looking at murder. Someone put a pillow over her face to suffocate her, breaking her nose in the process. I suspect the pillow case was then used to wipe up the small amount of blood that ensued. “
“Shit!” was all Garcia could manage.
“I’ll email you my report before I go home this evening. Have a nice day, Frank.”